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Speaking Out, Activism, & Finding Joy - Chat Transcript
The Pandora's Aquarium chat room welcomed Angela Shelton on May 20, 2009.
Shelton made her directing debut by traveling America interviewing other Angela Sheltons in an effort to survey random women. Her multi-award winning film Searching for Angela Shelton surprised her and the world when it put a spotlight on sexual abuse and domestic violence and started a grassroots movement of healing for abuse survivors worldwide.
Shelton also recently released her first memoir, Finding Angela Shelton, a groundbreaking, heartbreaking, joyous and sad, miraculous and a one-of-a-kind read, which was reviewed in our recent newsletter [view it here, in PDF format].
You can find out more about Angela Shelton on her website: www.angelashelton.com
If you would like to join us for future guest speaker chats with experts and activists, register on the Pandora's Aquarium online support community!
Jes: I am thrilled to introduce Angela Shelton, comedian, producer and activist, here to talk about her inspiring work.
Jes: Angela, we'll start by asking you a set of pre-determined questions.
Member question: What inspired you to go searching for other Angela Sheltons?
AngelaShelton: Oh lordie... Well. I was and am a screenwriter in Hollywood and was facing the Writer's strike and wanted to make my directing debut. I had come into contact with other Angelas while at the pharmacy, I had gotten mail, phone calls, etc., and had always thought it would be cool to do something around my name. When the strike was pending, I decided to do the documentary. I thought it was going to be funny. Ha!
Member question: What insights did you gain while you were meeting all of these survivors of sexual violence?
AngelaShelton: That sexual violence is an epidemic. It wasn't just the majority of Angela Sheltons (and that doesn't mean don't name your child Angela either) but it was the crew, the hotel clerk, the woman pumping gas...This certainly taught me that it is pandemic. And also that this is not a woman's issue.
Member question:What reaction have you gotten from the public/friends/family members after the book was published?
AngelaShelton: My mom loves my book. My dad doesn't. My grandmother says she read it and that's all she will say. But the biggest reaction is more disclosures. So many people in my life and those I continue to meet tell me their stories. It is heartbreaking and eye-opening.
Member question: What was the most difficult part of this journey? The most inspiring part?
AngelaShelton: The most difficult was dealing with my own issues of self abuse and having to heal from it. That required going deep into the darkness and what a journey that was. I caught caught by the chat filter for a second! And the most inspiring part still remains the lives that are transformed because of the movie, the book, and me speaking. It is a pleasure and an honor. And I think I am simply a vehicle through which it comes.
Member question: What have been the challenges of going public?
AngelaShelton: Finances !! And it's hard to get a date when you make an incest movie...and I can ruin parties too when the subject of my movie comes up and the whole crowd shifts into talking about violence. It is a blessing and a curse.
Member question: What advice would you give to someone who wants to speak out about their abuse?
AngelaShelton: To really work on their spiritual foundation, whatever that is or their support group ,whatever that is for them because you open up a big can of worms by speaking. I think the most important thing is self care and as caretakers (most survivors are) we tend to want to focus on taking care of others instead of ourselves. That made me sick for the first year of speaking, literally. I got ill. Then I learned many self care techniques!
Member question: What made you decide to start the Ask Angela site, and what is the most challenging part of running it?
AngelaShelton: I met an amazing 13 year old kid who had been in 17 foster homes and was adopted by very dear friends of mine. It turned out that he was a huge fan of Safe Side Superchick - the character I play in the Safe Side Video series. So he trusted me immediately when I came to meet him. I was able to sit down with him and tell him that he was safe now, that I knew these people very well who had adopted him and he could relax. I approved of and loved them very much. Then he started texting me all sorts of questions about life as a teen from girls to money to dealing with anger and I joked with him that I should set up a site. So the site was really for him. But I did start getting a lot of questions on there having to do with trauma and there is already the survivormanual.com and I didn't want to have another focus on trauma. There's you! No need to re-do the wheel.
Member question: How have partners reacted to the movie or book?
AngelaShelton: Ah.. well my ex boyfriend who was one of the great loves of my life saw my movie, recalled his past abuse and then never spoke to me again. My ex husband was very supportive and helped me set it up so I could edit the movie myself. Most have been very supportive and helpful. I say it's hard to get a date if you make an incest movie mosty because I do comedy, but there is some truth to that because men are intimidated by the fact that I am so open with my story, my feelings, my thoughts etc. I'm a big mouth.
Member question: What would you tell a survivor who is considering confronting their abuser?
AngelaShelton: That the confrontation has nothing to do with the perp and everything to do with the survivor. Just like forgiveness, I think it is for you and not them. Again, self care comes up and if you're not ready to do it face to face you don't have to. You can write a letter. You can scream at a wall. Sometimes talking to a wall or a chair is better than the actual perp. I have heard stories though from people who had their perp come clean. Mine of course did not. I would say prepare yourself and take care of yourself.
Member question: What are your recommendations/ideas for survivors who want to become activists?
AngelaShelton: Do it! Speak and keep speaking but again, the self care comes up. I see a lot of times how many survivors are drawn to being activists or social workers etc, but they have not done the hard healing yet. That can hurt them and their work. I'd say do what feels right for you. It's like when I talk about removing the sword of trauma, you have to remove it before you can use it. Then you have to heal the wound before you're strong enough to pick up the sword. Then it becomes sword play. So what kind of sword play do you want to do? Even in activism it is play! Bring some joy into it. Joy and violence cannot co-exist. And when you're working on your own healing, it shows for others. I think healing is a form or activism. Heaing as a revolution.
Member question: What advice do you have for survivors in terms of self care. How do you care for yourself?
AngelaShelton: Yes, I'm quite good at it now! It took me a long time to learn. The best self care is changing what you say to yourself in your head. Moving from the "I'm a piece of ____ etc" to "I'm a Goddess, I'm a Queen, I love you love you love you squish squish!" I got caught but the chat filter again! I like that this doesn't allow you to even write out the negative thoughts! I also dance. Dancing is my most favorite form of self care. I go on long bike rides. I listen to my dog. She lets me know when it's playtime and I honor that and leave my office. I say *squish* in my head a lot to myself and to others and it raises your vibrations. Try saying I love you squish. It's hard to say squish and be mad! Also meditation is key for me and I recommend some kind of connection like that, whatever works for you.
Member question: How did using creative projects (the movie, the memoir) help in your healing journey?
AngelaShelton: Immensely! I think creativity is so healing because in a way it becomes a form of homework. Or playwork. And when it's something creative, it takes away a lot of the pressure that it has to be perfect. Any perfectionists on here? Any good spellers?? Ha! Also moving from the movie and doing comedy and acting in other people's movies is great fun too and since I have done the hard core healing, it shows up in all areas of my life.
Jennifer: Thank you, Angela! Now is the part of the chat where the members will be submitting questions into a queue and they will show up in their own words. As a reminder to the chatters, please continue to submit your questions, but do not re-submit if you don't see your question right away.
Jennifer: Also, as usual, we may not get to all questions, as we are on a time table, and I already have several great questions lined up.
Jennifer: Ready, Angela?
AngelaShelton: Go for it.
Member question:: How has the abuse and healing from it affected your interpersonal relationships? Do you have trust issues?
AngelaShelton: Wha ha ha - trust issues! Yes, I used to big time. I was unable to have sex without my clothes on. I was unable to perform certain acts. And I was angry! Big time angry. That caused me to be attracted to and pull towards me like a magnet - angry men. Perfect fit! So I could take care of their anger instead of my own. Once I realized that I had my own anger, I worked to purge it and heal that side and now an entirely new species of people showed up. It really was like that too! Like looking over a mountain and seeing a whole new village of people and being like wow! You exist! I never would have seen you before. You were invisible to me because you were whole and healthy!
Member question: Often it's hard to find the humor in life after everything. What are small ways we can do it everyday?
AngelaShelton: Laugh. Just laugh at anything. Say squish a hundred times. Go beat your bed with a nerf bat, go pull all your clothes together in your closet and scream into them - that may seem like it would get you angry but it ends up making you laugh. Funny movies are good too.
Member question: What was the biggest obstacle you had to overcome to tell your story?
AngelaShelton: Wow, obstacles... Honestly it was mainly money. I put up everythng I had ever saved and lost just about everything when I dedicated my time to getting Searching out. It doesn't cost any money to tell your story but getting the movie out was so important to me and a must in my life and that set me back tremendously. Plus I've noticed that many survivors have financial issues too, the negative energy seems to bleed into all areas.
Member question:: You spoke of a spiritual base in recovery. Do you find that many religions are ill equipped when it comes to SA issues?
AngelaShelton: Ha ha ha! Don't get me in trouble! I do tend to have a big mouth and get in trouble but yes, many are ill equipped because the church (many churches) are the perfect hiding places for perps. But I'm also a big believer in faith too. I think it just gets twisted and molding and recreated for the benefit of those who want power. I say take your faith, spirituality, connection etc and go to the streets with it. It's all about your own connection anyway and what works for you. Once any one in any church says that they have "the way" and that you must listen, that makes me nervous.
Member question: If you could go back today, is there anything you would do differently? Are there choices you have regretted because maybe you were not ready for them at the time?
AngelaShelton: Ah, yes. There's one guy I slept with that I'd erase because that was pure blind asleep sex addiction on my part and yukky. But even that was a lesson. I see everything, even this horrible back injury I have recently gone through, as a lesson. But to do differently...more like have others do differently. I wish that my dad had given me an electric guitar when I was 14 like I wanted instead of a dolls house.
Member question: Where do you think you are in your healing journey? And where do you want to be?
AngelaShelton: I'm exactly where I want to be. I am at the place where I love myself. I'm squish-able! I'm excited to be constantly evolving. I'm excited to go to the next levels of dancing once my back has healed. I'm learning ariel dancing like cirque du soliel!
Member question: As a follow-up to the challenges of going public, what have been the benefits to the more public Angela Shelton and the more private Angela Shelton?
AngelaShelton: Good question! The benefits of the public AS are the inspiration for others and the more public I am, the more people I (we) reach. As far as the private AS, I have reached a very valuable place in my own sanity, healing and wellness where I am very happy to be alive, joyful in fact. Where I'm single and I love it, where my life is not about getting some guy to love me because I already love myself. And that private life shows up as good energy in my public life too.
Shannon: I spoke out quite publicly on TV, and now I sometimes have a hard time dealing with that separate private and public Shannon. Do I have to tell everyone just because I've spoken to millions? How do you decide what should be private when you've once been so public. Is it inauthentic to keep it private? Lots of questions rolled into one!
AngelaShelton: Wow good question and boy do I understand! I have come up with a "Searching free zone" where just because of my story and the fact that I've gone public it doesn't mean you can talk to me about it everywhere. My house is a "Searching free zone." You can watch the movie, read the book but you can't come into my house and want to talk about it. We can do that at events. It's ok to set very clear boundaries. That is also taking care of yourself. Sometimes you can be seen by some as being a bitch! But that means Being In Total Control of Herself spells out b-i-t-c-h.
Jennifer: We have time for just one more question.
Member question: Do you struggle with forgiveness?
AngelaShelton: Struggle... hmmm... The struggle is the definition of that word! People get wrapped up in that word big time. I think forgiveness is forgiving yourself. That was a big struggle because as a self abuser it took me awhile to forgive me. Also the church can be all about insisting on forgiveness and that is a place where you can get to but for many survivors, they need to be given permission to be angry; not be told that they have to forgive. You don't have to forgive. It's your choice. It also does not mean that you condone the behavior either. For me forgiveness related to my own abuser(s) was all about me not holding the rage anymore. As soon as I could talk about it, think about it, and really be with it and not want to claw my face, when I could sit with the past and be ok, serene even, that's when I moved into forgiveness. That certainly doesn't not mean that they can come over for Thanksgiving dinner! It means that I'm not carrying the hatred and rage. It means that I live a joyful life no matter what I've been through and I've got a smile on my face. And the biggie is that I forgive myself and I love myself. I love that little girl who didn't get the guitar - so now I have four of them! I forgive the teen who clawed at her skin - now I take care of my skin. I forgive the woman who was blind and said "yes" just because she was asked - so I bought myself a wedding ring! And I forgive myself for all the time it took me to heal. I thought it was taking me too long (and there are more levels to go too) but now I'm grateful because my healing was right out in the open so others could benefit. Now hopefully you will benefit from seeing me do a wild dance show and play the guitar!
Jennifer: I'd like to thank Angela for taking the time to chat with us and share her experiences here, and to thank all of you for joining us and participating in this very interesting chat! I'm sorry we didn't get to all of the questions. This transcript will be posted (with names edited out) shortly. Thank you again, Angela!
Shannon: Thank you SO much!
AngelaShelton: Thank you!! I love your site, thanks for what you are doing!!! Be joyful, you deserve it.
AJ: Thank You!
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